Progressive workers celebrate their struggles on Labor Day

“We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to His Eminence, Archbishop Tagle, for showing sympathy to the plight of the country’s workers and support to our calls. His sympathy and support give workers more strength in pushing for a substantial wage hike, regular jobs and respect for labor rights.” – KMU

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MANILA – President Benigno Aquino III asked workers not to treat May 1 as a day of protest but as a day of celebration, even as he gave workers nothing to celebrate about on Labor Day. The moderate labor leaders found this to their dismay after having their “once-a-year privilege” breakfast with him. And they had asked Aquino for just “loose change,” said Makabayan Senatorial bet Teddy Casiño.

On Labor Day, the country’s progressive workers groups celebrated Labor Day indeed. But what they celebrated would likely “inspire fear” among the ruling elite, currently led by President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, as Anakbayan chairman Vencer Crisostomo said at Mendiola. Yesterday, workers celebrated their unity and commitment to keep on protesting against policies that exploit and repress them, to grow strong as they struggle until eventually, their leaders said in their speeches, they could establish with the people a just and genuinely democratic society.

Around 30,000 gathered to celebrate workers’ struggles this May 1 under the banner of the progressive labor bloc. Moderate labor groups also held gatherings in various parts of Manila in the morning; none of them gave praise to Aquino’s tack on labor or the economy.

In the capital, the progressive labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) and friends from other workers’ alliances, organizations of youth and students, women, government employees, teachers, health workers, urban poor, drivers and peasants, held simultaneous activities in the morning, then they converged by noon at the Liwasang Bonifacio in Lawton, Manila. Mass leaders and labor advocates attended an hour of Holy Mass with Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle in Quiapo Church, and then had lunch with religious groups in Plaza Miranda before marching to Liwasang Bonifacio.

Workers’ groups converged at the Liwasang Bonifacio from at least six areas: Welcome Rotonda at the boundary of Quezon City and Manila; Buendia corner Taft Ave. in Manila; Moriones, Tondo; in Blumentritt corner Avenida, Manila; in Stop n’ Shop, Sta. Mesa; and in Recto, Manila.

After a rousing program at the Liwasang Bonifacio, they then marched to Mendiola, near Malacañang.

With Church support

On the occasion of Labor Day last year, Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle issued a statement recognizing the importance of workers in society and calling on capitalists and the government to recognize workers’ dignity. This year’s Labor day, he agreed to a church-workers’ solidarity group invitation to lead a mass for workers at Quiapo Church. In front of this Church is Plaza Miranda, one of the sites in Manila where protests are often held. The late labor leader turned Anakpawis partylist legislator Crispin Beltran is honored with a monument in one of the pillars of this plaza.

“We would like to extend our deepest gratitude to His Eminence, Archbishop Tagle, for showing sympathy to the plight of the country’s workers and support to our calls. His sympathy and support give workers more strength in pushing for a substantial wage hike, regular jobs and respect for labor rights,” Elmer “Bong” Labog, KMU chairperson, said in a statement.

Church support for workers has been felt also in a forum held earlier this month by Church-Workers Solidarity at Sto. Domingo Church. The religious sector from various congregations discussed with workers the history of May 1, International Working people’s day or Labor Day. They also discussed ways in which members of the Church could support workers’ struggles, even as they asked the workers to be patient and understanding of some members of the Church who may not immediately be open or supportive.

“It is inspiring for us workers to know that in times like these, when capitalists and the government collude in exploiting and repressing workers, a key leader of the Church is on our side,” Labog said.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said the mass aims “to pay tribute to the workers’ invaluable contribution to our society.”

At the Holy Mass attended by progressive mass organizations’ leaders and at least 30 priests, Cardinal Tagle hailed workers as also “in the likeness of God,” and explained that the Church has a say on labor because it’s part of their mission. He reminded the mass attendees that God is the first worker toward “building the Kingdom of God,” as we all are.. He asked if that Kingdom of God manifests at the country’s workplaces.

He gave the workers three messages: (1) workers are more important than capital and profit; (2) all workers, regardless of classifications, have rights and (3) associations working for people’s welfare, the government and business, should join together, work for the common good, search for the common good.

“This is the second Labor Day that Cardinal Tagle is bringing hope and strength to workers who are being abused by capitalists with the connivance of the government,” Labog said.

“His mass on Labor Day stands in stark contrast with the Aquino government’s wage-cut and wage-freeze policies. Cardinal Tagle’s statement last year that workers are more important than capital and profits, exposes the folly in the Aquino government’s defense of capitalists’ profits to the detriment of workers,” Labog said.

The Labor Day mass was organized by the Church People Workers Solidarity (CWS), National Clergy Discernment Group (NCDG) and the Promotion of Church People’s Response (PCPR).

Festive show of protest

Though one speaker after another were denouncing the worsening plight of working people under Aquino’s so-called economic growth, the Labor Day programs at the Liwasang Bonifacio and in Mendiola were marked by joyous gathering, singing and dancing, chanting, protest art exhibit and street-play. Some protesters also came wearing or carrying posters with their calls.

Setting the tone was the colorful mural onstage, which showed that protesters “see right through Aquino’s deceptions,” as Gabriela Women Partylist Luzviminda Ilagan said in a statement. Workers also brought a tall, colorful effigy of Aquino and Obama whom they ridiculed as two coiled serpents attacking the people in the guise of serving them.

Another tall but more respectful effigy, one depicting Andres Bonifacio as a modern-day armed revolutionary, was also carried by the workers. Complementing the effigies are flags and banners of various sizes and colors.

In another group, the KMU-NCR brought larger-than-life colored pictures of “social science geniuses” and early revolutionaries such as Karl Marx, Frederik Engels, Viktor Nikolai Lenin, and Mao Zedong, who, their leaders said, showed the world that a just society, a socialist society, can be established and run.

Chikoy Pura of The Jerks, Danny Consumido, Ericsson Acosta and the Sining Lila, among other cultural groups, provided numbers to appreciative crowd. Around 30,000 workers and supporters are estimated to have gathered at Liwasang Bonifacio. They made up a long line of marchers to Mendiola, where, after burning the serpent Aquino-Obama effigy, they concluded the May 1 celebrations talking of more protests, and waging a democratic revolution. (

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